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Thursday, September 12, 2013

Depression Part 5: How Second Life gave me a Second chance ©- Talking to Ian- Orchids Reports…

Orchids: Hallo Ian, Thank you for talking to SLE. You have an active interest in helping people who have depression. We understand this has been a very personal fight for you. Can you tell us about your struggle?

Ian: First I want to say that I have been through depression myself. I lost everything, my marriage, my dream home, my job, my life savings, and very nearly my life through severe clinical depression. One of the problems of trying to help someone overcome depression is that we often don't realize what is happening to us. The average person has no frame of reference to understand exactly why they are feeling so bad, what often makes things worse is that people around them don't always understand how to support someone with depression.

The stories of depression are heart-rending. Each is as unique as the individuals concerned, it is an incredibly personalized experience.
Of course, some people are not around to give us their story, and that is perhaps the most tragic loss of all.

Orchids: What is the need to understand the mechanism of depression?
Ian: If you don't understand depression is an illness you may not even necessarily know that what you are experiencing can be described as symptoms. As people describe that they are stressed by various things and feel hopeless or useless or that the world would be better off without them these are actually symptomatic of a clinically recognized condition, and sometimes caused by a temporary imbalance in the brain. However, proving that is not so easy with a living human brain and there are actually no tests to determine hormone levels within the brain.

Doctors often use assessment quizzes which are designed to get some kind of measure of the subjective feelings of the patient to determine the severity of the illness. These might include questions regarding whether mood has been low or how often people might be thinking about suicide.
Based on this scoring system the Doctory then has a more objective way to evaluate the severity of depression.
Solutions might include recommending antidepressants and perhaps counseling. Modern thinking is to use a combined approach.
Antidepressants actually target a specific brain hormone called serotonin to attempt to boost levels of this because it not only affects mood, indeed is often called the "Happy Hormone", but it might regulate the brain too and keeps it in balance.
With low levels of serotonin several things happen. One part of the brain can physically shrink or atrophy, while due to stress hormones another can expand or become swollen. These two organs have a profound effect on our mind. Apparently the natural and ongoing process of producing new brain cells can be interrupted or even halted and antidepressants are reputed to be helpful in kick-starting this process.
Another important change is that the body needs serotonin to produce the sleep hormone melatonin so our sleep cycles are affected too and further exhaust us.
When that first part of the brain, called the hippocampus shrinks it induces the symptoms of persistently low moods. Loss of interest in normal things, fatigue, and sometimes loss of appetite or a tendency to over eat. However that could also be due to other problems.

The Second Part of the brain which swells up is called the Amygdale and it is a primitive part of the brain associated with our fight or flight reflex. It actually has a job to remind us of mistakes we have made too, and this is a survival mechanism - the trouble is when this is swollen it causes extreme negative thinking.
"I have let everyone down"
"I am useless"                                                                    
"I would be better off dead"
It is basically overloading you with anxiety due to stress hormones, which is very probably because of stressful events in your life, such as divorce, job loss, homelessness, bereavement, trauma, shock, etc.
Now psychologists recognize this barrage of self-critical thinking as "The Voice of Depression" and try to teach people to learn to recognize it for what it is. False or invalid thoughts. These are not necessarily true.
Sometimes it takes a while for patients to understand this. Now by increasing levels of serotonin the brain can supposedly rebalance itself, the amygdale and hippocampus return to normal size, mood improves, the negative thoughts go away we start producing new brain cells again. It takes between six to twelve weeks apparently.
Okay, so let's quickly recap.
Depression sufferers don't always know what is happening to them.
Doctors use techniques to evaluate patients for symptoms.
Symptoms have a cause - a physical cause due to a possible temporary imbalance in the brain.
Now the key to overcoming depression is to understand the solution to the problems, not just in learning to recognize the voice of depression and stop beating themselves up but understanding what else to do about it to improve the situation.
I believe the key is to learn that some things are helpful to sufferers and some things are unhelpful. The likelihood is that most people don't even know what is good for them and what is bad for them. Ironically people will often turn to some of these negative things when they are ill and also neglect to do the good things that can help them.
Surprisingly the negative things are those we might tend to lean on to get through times of stress, anxiety or depression but they are only making things worse by increasing stress hormones artificially. These include Alcohol, Caffeine, Sugar and Smoking. All of which deplete vital nutrients. If one doesn't get you the other one will. Between them these are the four main things which actively deplete nutrients the brain needs to sustain a good balance of hormones.
Orchids: Tell us how SL has influenced you.
Ian: My RL name is Ian; I have two alternative avatars in Second Life, Albion and Eon.

Since I first logged into Second Life some seven years ago and found myself rezzed stark nekkid in the middle of the old Orientation Island and actually felt embarrassed I knew this was going to be an interesting experience if a 'game' could impact a person on an emotional level so unexpectedly.

I have learned a lot in Second Life and often joke that I am the Grid's oldest Noob as there always seems to be something new to learn.

I had a lot of fun and met a lot of really great people and have a few long-term friends from those early days. We have been through a lot together both in Second Life and in Real Life.
One of the things that happened in my own real world was that I underwent a series of extremely stressful events in my life. I was signed off work with stress, but also had stress in my domestic life too, it wasn't much fun, but on top of that someone set fire to my house by accident and then a good friend of mine died. There is more to the sorry tale, but I ended up being mentally burned out and diagnosed with severe clinical depression.
Largely depression is temporary if you treat it right and I did get better. I had some support from in-world friends at the time and it was a great escape for me just to log in and get away from real life stresses. I would just hang out and chat and have a laugh, or build something. It all helped take my mind off my worries.
I even joined a survey conducted by a big electronics firm in second life and they rewarded us with some money and Amazon vouchers, so I got myself a decent camera. That helped too, because, although I was very isolated socially in the real world at the time I would go for walks and take photos of things I had seen and upload them to share with friends in-world and I kind of felt that I had some interaction. I even went to places to show to one friend who always encouraged me, so I sort of felt like I was showing her around my real world and had some virtual 'company' on my walks.

Orchids: This was the time when the photography bug got to you?
Ian: I always like shooting photographs, but this was my decent camera and of course then I got into that crazy thing of photographing things for textures and that often found me photographing the strangest things - like a brick wall, or trees, or even one time a box of tiles in a furniture warehouse, they must have thought I was mad, but they made great flooring and pillars for SL builds.

I think one of my favorites was a Rose Archway I made for my friend Firey at Lost Eden. It took me ages to edit the originals to make a transparency, but looks great in SL now.

Orchids: So you learned how to beat depression, how else did Second Life help?
Ian: Once I got better I decided I would look into depression and try to figure out what went wrong with my brain - and soon found out some incredible facts that actually got me researching into depression and the brain for about a year on and off.
The thing is I found out some seriously beneficial ways to handle the situation. Not just working within the realm of the mind and changing thinking or attitudes, but actually working with the body to give it the building blocks to heal the physical brain.
It turns out several things happen when we run short of one hormone, called the happy hormone and the brain can physically change, this is in fact reversible if you know how to encourage your body's innate ability to repair and rebalance itself.
When I worked all this out I decided I should try to share this with other sufferers, so I decided to write a book. It took me a further two years of research to verify the facts and not unleash false hope or dubious information upon a needy world.
A Second Life Friend who is also a journalist in real life told me way back then that writing and publishing a book was not as easy as I might think. She was right, but I persisted and she actually sent me a huge bouquet of flowers when I finally published.
I figured out how to do it all myself, writing, editing, proof-reading, and copyrighting and converting to ePub format for e-books, as well as publishing a paperback through a print on demand service. Coincidentally there have been some fresh developments in treatment guidelines which meant my book needed to be completely revised, so I have withdrawn it till I can catch up.
When I was writing the book I used Second Life as a 3D modeling studio, setting up scenarios and props to illustrate some points and add a bit of humour too. Then I would snapshot the scene and put these images into my book to break up the narrative and add some humour.

One of these illustrations I did not build as a set myself, it was the memorial at the survivors of suicide place. It just broke my heart when I found it. There were perhaps several hundred candles lit for people who either had taken their own lives or had tried.

Orchids: Any other ways that SL influenced you?
Ian: Right now I am doing the same thing, trying to help people understand depression and how to beat it, but also working on some videos with some Second Life "machinima" animations.

I still hang out on several mental health support groups in Second Life and try to help as and when I can. It is heart-rending sometimes to hear someone talk about depression knowing they don't always understand what to do or how to deal with it.
I am not trained as a counselor, but I do what I can in group chats.
Meanwhile I set out to revised my original book and found fresh material which I find can be helpful to people. Really it is all about stress causing an imbalance in the brain and then understanding how to encourage the body to produce happy hormones through providing the building blocks it needs to self-regulate. That is basically getting good nutrition and taking exercise.

Image 12
Image 13
You are what you eat - so don't eat crap.
There are things that are particularly bad for depression and make it worse, or prolong the misery, such as the four I mentioned earlier; Caffeine, Alcohol, Sugar and Smoking, but there are also many things one can learn to do to help one's self get better. Exercise is surprisingly helpful - even though you may not feel like it. Counseling can be of tremendous benefit - and, of course, see your doctor, but educate yourself as to your options and watch out for side effects.

Orchids: Ian is a Multi-talented RL and SL Avi. You are a poet too we hear …
Ian: Yes, I like to write and often pen the odd poem. I have a fondness for humourous rhymes, like this one I made up about relationships in Second Life.

I called it "My Cyber Love"

Thanks to my PC
My true love came for me
and saved me from Hell in RL
Well, we friended in June
'neath a blue-textured Moon
After sharing IM's in SL

She TeePeed when I called,
and the two of us Lol'd
and wandered of to our own sim
where we rezzed by the sea
I watched from my PC
and we hugged on our favorite prim

in sweet anticipation
I played a sex animation
until she went off afk
but we exchanged tickles
and then we bumped pixels
and cyber-loved in the new-fashioned way

We would dance until dawn
while the sound stream played on
enjoying a virtual drink
and keeping the beat
with our virtual feet
and occasionally having to sync

I lavished on her
many gifts (and a bear)
and each day I wrote a notecard
and thanks to my software
I sometimes saw her bare
and always she kept my ware hard.

Well, so it went on
from different time zones
as we met in our virtual world
just an average boy
with his virtual toy
and a sweet special virtual girl.

We had shared inventory
and many a story
and many adventures we'd had
Knew each other so well
shared much time in SL
even though it might seem slightly mad.

Then one day we agreed
that we really should meet
and we both txt'd out our new plan
This had gone on so long
that we couldn't go wrong
we should meet up as woman and man.

We used the internet
Travel tickets to get
and selected a convenient location
where we hoped to meet
where RL would be sweet
and share a romantic vacation.

we arrived in two cabs
but - just like Linden Labs
That's when the two of us crashed
As we both lay dying
and weeping and crying
first and second lives past our eyes flashed

Virtually dead we both lay
till they took us away
to a hospital that was quite near
it was experimental
and the owner was mental
and came up with this crazy idea

Though our bodies were trashed
in the terrible crash
in jars he could keep us alive
though our bodies were gone
our brains could live on
and thus we could maybe survive.

He put our brains in jars
linked to lots of wires
so that was our fate and our future
The mad genius conspired
and we were hard-wired
each of us into a computer

Till one day we found
that we were not bound
by the limits of mere mortal men
though our options were fewer
we found an SL viewer
and then we were linked up once again!

So now we are free
my true love and me
to wander once more hand in hand
though our bodies are gone
our minds they live on
together in that virtual land

There's no need to log off
we're forever in love
My virtual true love and I
though our brains are in jars
we sit below virtual stars
and make Love under Linden's blue sky.

This story's not sad
(though it’s totally mad)
We're so happy in our virtual chaos
we can txt and IM
and dance once again
and share lots of ROLFMAO's

I rezzed her a ring
and we did that thing
of marrying there in SL
our friends TP'd in too
with gifts old, new - and blue
and we're planning a baby as well.

We've a comfy amount
of lindens on account
and a beautiful sim by the sea
and we build and we play
24 hours a day
My Virtual True Love and me.

Orchids: Ian, do you have plans in the future to make a part 2 of a book on depression?
Ian: I may, but frankly the new scientific developments have really changed the field of play and the entire book needs to be completely rewritten. The good news is that I expect in the long term we will see radically new ways of treating depression, the bad news is I have had to withdraw my book for the foreseeable future. It took me a year to get the concept, a further two years of research and writing and another year to revise it. I honestly couldn't say how long a total rewrite might take, but I can't commit the time and expense to support myself further at this stage. Sadly I have to walk away from it and get on with other projects. That is the cost if you wish to be an honest researcher; you have to humbly accept new developments and be prepared to revise your work. I am just one guy trying to fight this and I am afraid I must cut my losses.



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